Bill Haddox looked his players in the eyes as they knelt together in the middle of the field at East-West Stadium and said, “I’ll put you up against anyone any night.”
That night was last night, and the anyone was Fairmont Senior.
By night’s end, the oldest rivalry in the state had turned another year older, and Fairmont Senior had defeated East Fairmont, 41-13.
The game proved to be a battle for a while, but the Polar Bears’ ground game was just too much for the Bees.
“The line was blocking and opening up the holes. That’s the key to our run game,” senior Luke Hrapchak said. “If the line does their job, it makes us look great.”
And that’s exactly what the Polar Bear line did for much of the night.
Led by Hrapchak, the Polar Bears racked up 267 total yards on the ground. Hrapchak finished with 167 yards of his own, 117 in the first half, and scores of 85 and four yards.
“Everybody has done more than I've expected with Noah (Harmon) being out,” quarterback Austin Norman said of the run game.
Haddox said earlier in the week that tackling the Polar Bears’ big backs would be a problem, and he was right.
“The biggest factor was that they had speed and weight,” Haddox said after the game. “We just made some mistakes tonight. We could get a hand on somebody, but we just couldn’t bring them down.”
Haddox has said all season how proud he is of his team and reminded them multiple times in the postgame speech, including how the defense played the best it could.
Haddox’s Bees held the Polar Bears to just six points in the opening quarter, but Fairmont Senior would find paydirt three times in the third to put the game out of reach.
After coming out of the break with a 20-0 lead, Norman fired two quick scores, one a 35-yard strike to Nick Davisson and the other a 53-yard score to Neil Scherich.
Hrapchak powered in from four yards out before the quarter ended, putting the Polar Bears on top 41-0 before the Bees could score.
“Offensively, we came out slow. But we were able to knock the cobwebs off and put 40-something on the board,” Fairmont Senior coach J.L. Abbott said of his team’s performance.
East Fairmont just couldn’t seem to get anything going on the ground after gaining just a single rushing yard in the first half. In the passing game, though, the Bees were able to find some success.
Jake Delaney, who wrapped up a phenomenal season as first-year quarterback, was able to get the Bees on the board in the fourth quarter with a 19-yard touchdown to Myles Johnson. Ronnie Mills, who caught 10 passes for 101 yards, scored the game’s final touchdown late in the quarter after a five-yard run.
“It just happened to work out,” Mills said of his 10 catches. “They weren’t really guarding me, and Jake was able to find me.”
Delaney finished the season with 1,890 passing yards and 19 touchdowns.
“He did a great job,” Mills, who was the quarterback last season, said of Delaney. “He was put in a tight spot, and we’re all real proud of him.”
All-in-all, the rivalry game saw six personal-foul calls in the game, adding to the tension. But it was the Polar Bears who would come away with the victory, extending their streak to six games now over the Bees.
“I can speak for all the seniors,” Mills said. “We played with everything we had. It was our last East-West game.”
“Any time you can get a win in the East-West game and add to the tally, it's the greatest feeling,” Abbott said. “I'm really proud of the way the team played.”
The loss ends the season for East Fairmont with a 3-7 record. Fairmont Senior will move into the playoffs with an 8-2 record.
The Polar Bears’ opponent hasn’t been picked yet, but they’ll host them next week to star the playoffs. Abbott said his team will be ready.
“The second season starts next week,” he said. “Like we just told the kids, in the playoffs there's no slouches. We've just got to come back to work Monday and put this game behind us.”
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.